How much is enough?
I’ve spent most of my life following the advice of my parents, church and schools. I was extremely successful, excelling at university and becoming one of the youngest executive managers in a top Australian company. I bought a house, got married, and even found time for basketball and travel.
Life for me back then was about getting to the next level. I reached the top, being appointed chief financial officer of a multi-million dollar company, the pinnacle of my profession. I was the one people came to when things needed fixing. After hours, and on weekends, I also taught students the Diploma of Chartered Accounting and represented thousands of chartered accountants on a Corporate Advisory Panel.
While I’d been taught academic, technical and business skills, I was never taught about emotional resilience and relationships. I lived with all this emotional energy and perfectionism but didn’t know how to understand, manage and process it.
I injured my ankle, needed major surgery and wasn’t able to exercise for two years. This was my tipping point. Unable to reconcile my past and deeply afraid of my future, I was engulfed by anxiety, depression and paranoid psychosis.
My new reality became delusional thinking.
I thought I was under constant surveillance and everyone was out to harm me. Television, radio and newspapers were talking directly to me. I lost track of days and became imprisoned in my home for five months. My body was wired on a hypervigilant energy system and I didn’t sleep.
Until then I’d never really talked about my feelings, instead channelling my energy into pleasing others. I went to my GP and reached out to psychologists, needing to feel safe. Unfortunately, no-one was able to find space for me.
Things got worse and I tried to take my own life a number of times. But I managed to survive. I spent time in an intensive care unit, a second mental health hospital and started on anti-psychotic medication. I’m very grateful for the medication as it allowed me to sleep for the first time in five months.
But my challenges didn't stop there. Popcorn started going off on in my head and I realised I’d been depressed and paranoid for a long time. I started on manic spending sprees, buying 100 t-shirts in two weeks, and half the electrical goods in a department store.
Most of my family and friends didn’t understand what was going on. With the stigma I felt like I’d been struck by the devil. And then my relationship came to an end. That felt like the ultimate rejection, with my mental health symptoms and diagnosis playing a major part in my divorce.
So I started a journey of healing, beginning with a 12-week fitness challenge, where I lost 20kg, and a pilgrimage in Spain. This was alongside three years in outpatient programs at my mental health hospital.
I knew there was something more than my diagnosis of bipolar affective disorder with paranoid psychosis out there.
I immersed myself in mindfulness, Qigong, yoga, tantra, Buddhism, meditation and much more. I learnt that we can’t outsource our health, we need to tap into our innate intelligence, as well as listen to specialists.
I started to connect with people again on Facebook. Online I could be vulnerable and feel safe without disclosing my diagnosis or life challenges. For my 40th I gave myself a present, a fundraiser for Suicide Prevention Australia. That was a big turning point, when my story became a gift for others. My fundraising continued with a second 1000km hike in Spain for beyondblue.
Wellness is a continual journey. I’m now very grateful for my life and feeling free from society’s expectations. I am also medication-free. I’ve learnt there isn’t one answer to solve every problem. It’s more about what we need in this very moment – there may be twenty things that are messed up in our lives, but what are the one or two things we can work on right now?
And sometimes that’s enough.